Congratulations, newbie! You’ve arrived in one of the East Coast’s most fertile stomping grounds for both local and big-name musical artists. Whether you prefer huddling up in sticky-floored dives or stretching out on a picnic blanket at an amphitheater, your live music options abound.
Let’s start with the big ones: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek (3801 Rock Quarry Road, Raleigh) and the PNC Arena (1400 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh)—which the Carolina Hurricanes hockey and N.C. State’s men’s basketball teams also call home—both of which have a capacity of about twenty thousand. There, you’ll see some of the biggest stars in the music industry; in recent years, theyíve hosted the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Kenny Chesney, Bruno Mars, The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, The Grateful Dead, etc.
Carrboro’s famous Cat’s Cradle (300 East Main Street) remains the crown jewel of local clubs, and its newer, complementary Back Room is a smaller space for more intimate shows. You can find up-and-coming indie acts in those rooms and at spots like Raleigh’s Kings (14 West Martin Street) and Lincoln Theatre (126 East Cabarrus Street), Chapel Hill’s Local 506 (506 West Franklin Street), as well as Durham’s Motorco (723 Rigsbee Avenue) and The Pinhook (117 West Main Street). The Pinhook is also an excellent spot for bump-and-grind dance parties and drag shows. At the farthest edge of the Triangle, out in Saxapahaw, sits the Haw River Ballroom (1711 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road), a gorgeous converted textile mill that now hosts the likes of Gillian Welch and The Mountain Goats.
If you want to enjoy more music in the great outdoors, there’s Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater (500 South McDowell Street), which leans toward upper-midlevel bookings like Fleet Foxes and Paramore, and Caryís Koka Booth Amphitheatre (8003 Regency Parkway), which hosts gigs from the North Carolina Symphony and mild-mannered performances from a wide range of artists from late spring through early fall. But if the great indoors are more your speed, the Durham Performing Arts Center (123 Vivian Street, Durham) and its nearby neighbor Carolina Theatre (309 West Morgan Street, Durham) are both respectable options, too.
Raleigh’s best bigger, seated venues are all housed in one building at the edge of downtown. Meymandi Concert Hall, Memorial Auditorium, and Fletcher Opera Theater all share the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts (2 East South Street). You can most frequently find the N.C. Symphony at Meymandi from the fall through the winter, while Fletcher hosts—you guessed it—some opera performances, plus a surprising number of folksy acts that benefit from the quiet roomís acoustics.
In Raleigh, The Maywood (658 Maywood Avenue) is always good for metal and alt-rock shows, and you can find more of the latter plus plenty of jam bands at The Pour House (224 South Blount Street). Pour House’s weekly Local Band Local Beer series, which has a standing $5 entry fee and showcases a different slate of bands from around the area, is a great entry point for those curious about the local scene but stumped as to where to start.
And finally, there are the special, teeny-tiny spaces that are essential to the local music ecosystem. Slim’s (227 South Wilmington Street, Raleigh) proudly bills itself as “Raleigh’s premier music hallway,” while The Cave (452 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill) is a cozy subterranean spot; both hold fewer than a hundred people. If you’re feeling really adventurous (and/or if you really love old-time music), Chapel Hill’s Nightlight (405 1/2 West Rosemary Street) is the best spot to see stuff like free jazz and experimental noise and electronica.